Gatekeeping, Taboos And “Harm None”

Gatekeeping, Taboos And “Harm None” February 14, 2019

What are the unspoken taboos in witchcraft? Those secret lines we won’t ever cross. Some claim that a “harm none” approach prevents the evil that lurks behind taboos. There are serious unspoken problems with this way of thinking. Gatekeeping, entrapment, toxic positivity all come to mind. The whole “harm none” approach does little to prevent these things from happening, but there are some taboos that could. 

What are the taboos in witchcraft today? Canstock photo

Evil. Scary. Taboo.

Black magick, empowerment, resistance. Evil. Scary. Taboo. Throughout time and across cultures, witchcraft has been seen as illegal, immoral and off-limits. Not to be spoken of in polite company. Except, of course, when a witch was needed to solve a problem. With the emergence of modern witchcraft, certain taboos of our own have been commonly adopted, from refusing to do “dark magick” to working very hard to appear as though we are avoiding anything to do with Christianity. Witches have always adapted powerful spirits, whether saints or demons, for their use. Working with spirits seems to be a bit taboo these days, as does other forms of witchery that speak truth to me, like necromancy, possession, and my companions along the crooked path I walk. Way back when I first felt called by Hekate, it seemed that she was taboo. However, this dark goddess of witchcraft compelled me in such a way that I cast off those who claimed that she was off-limits.

Blind Faith Should Be Taboo

For some, modern witchcraft comes with many taboos, some explicit but many more are hidden, like the blind faith some demonstrate. On the surface, being a fervent follower of a deity, teacher or tradition seems harmless enough. Except when it’s not. Taboos function on two levels. On the group level, taboos serve to enforce norms and rules. “Harm none” works on both levels, with the taboo being causing suffering to anyone/thing. A better interpretation of the Wiccan Rede would be “live your truth, try not to be a jerk doing so.” Question everything. If Hekate calls, answer. Walk your own crooked path.

“Harm None” And Power Hoarding

A taboo against so-called “dark” witchcraft results from this mindset. However, as I’ve previously written, hexing and healing are the same. A collective who believes they can live without inflicting suffering is bound to fail, fall prey to gossip (more on that below), abuse and other forms of dysfunction. Why? Because the taboo against harm is so ridiculous that no one can achieve it. Set the bar too high, people don’t even try to reach it. Instead they pay lip-service to the dogma while committing atrocities behind closed doors, or in the circle. Does this sound familiar? So many of us flocked to witchcraft as we fled from Christianity. It’s not surprising that our biggest taboo is a direct carryover from where we escaped. It’s all a big circle of gatekeeping and power blocking.

Taboos serve to uphold social order by instilling fear in the community members so that they don’t engage in the prohibited behavior. These acts are viewed as either too dangerous or sacred for regular people to perform. Control is the goal. Usually engaging in a taboo act is viewed as a violation of cultural and/or religious norms. “Harm none” as dogma is an excellent example. Hexing, cursing and the poison path are viewed as being taboo by some. As is often the case with dogma, people adhere to this rule by being exceptionally flexible with their definition of harm. Protection magick, not harmful. Binding, harmful. And on it goes.

Witchcraft Still Is Taboo

Practicing witchcraft was long seen as taboo (tabu) in western culture, and still is in many countries. I want you to consider that for a moment. Here we are walking the streets draped in obvious signs of witchcraft (at least what others may perceive as such) while others accused of practicing witchery are murdered. This happens today. I brought up this because to understand the interaction of taboo/witchcraft, it’s necessary to consider that witchcraft is still taboo today. Even here in North America, there are reports of practitioners being victimized and property vandalized based on the suspicion of witchcraft. To you and me, witchcraft is not taboo, but to many it is.

Historically, the taboo against witchcraft was a way for the power structure to rob us of our power. There’s still a lingering scent of this in witchcraft today, with some balking at the rise of personal power as part of witchery. Calling all your power back to you should never, ever be taboo.

Ridiculous Gatekeeping

There is this nasty thread of power-blocking demonstrated in the ridiculous gatekeeping that goes on. From herbalism to inclusion, there are far too many self-appointed experts who attempt to control witchcraft. The “harm none” and “watch out for karma” mindset can certainly be seen as this sort of gatekeeping. There’s also the “I’m an expert and you’re not” gatekeeping. One taboo that we need in witchcraft is one prohibiting putting up with these types.  The more tolerant we are of the intolerant, the weaker our witchcraft.

A subtler form of useless gatekeeping that persists is the lack of dominant voices that aren’t white males. I’m not trashing them, but I am saying that persons of color, women and those identifying as other are often not included. When they do speak out, there’s often a horrible backlash. The gatekeepers reinforce their fragile egos by trashing voices that don’t fit their incredibly narrow view. It should be taboo to invalidate another witch’s lived experience.

Gatekeeping has a place, for sure. When there is potential risk of real harm or when protecting a tradition are two examples.

Being Tolerant of the Intolerant

Holding space for anyone who spews hatred should be taboo. In our attempt to be inclusive, there’s way too much acceptance of hateful language and actions. There’s no way that these people need to have a voice in witchcraft. Different opinions should be encouraged. Seriously. Delete those hateful comments. Walk away from those toxic witches and psychopaths. Let’s lift each other up while eliminating the jerks. If you’re not in a place to speak out, then connect with someone who can. Harm none, if you try to live it, means that you protect and defend others. Defensive witchcraft is the same. Binding a psychopath is in everyone’s best interests.

Not Obtaining Consent

I’m not talking about getting consent before hexing the loser who is stalking you. Do what needs to be done. What I am saying is that a lot of the problems in covens and communities arises from a lack of consent. If your High Priestess doesn’t ask for your consent before group rituals or private teaching, then ask her to do so. Not discussing consent opens the gates to all sorts of problems, from abuse to ending up in courses that aren’t what we signed up for. We need to get our own consent, too. Doing anything that undermines our sovereignty should definitely be taboo.

Baiting, Luring And Other Forms of Entrapment

A day doesn’t go by without me seeing some sort of baiting by a self-proclaimed witch, from promising spells that solve all our problems to advertising their super-special “channeled” witch school. Luring reeks of the same energy that results in many of us being taken advantage of in our private lives. This is entrapment, usually fueled by gaslighting.

The Poison Tongue

If I could immediately remove one thing from the witch world with my magick wand, it would be gossip and other forms of poison language. I’ve already written about hate speech and luring words, but gossip can be equally damaging. Pure shadow energy. How come it’s so often those who adopt a “white witch” attitude that have the most toxic tongues? I realize that gossip, back stabbing, and throwing others under the bus are the actions of those who feel truly disempowered. While I advocate for supporting them, that doesn’t include approval.

Don’t be a gossip hag or a silent bystander enjoying the show.

Being An Unaccompanied Miner

I have been guilty of being so seduced by underworld energy that I was an unaccompanied miner myself, digging deep into the under world. Entranced by power, lured by the velvet embrace of the dark. Desiring the power of demons. Completely understandable. However, there should be a taboo against going too deep in the dark. In this sense, I can understand why “black” magick has been seen as off-limits. There’s forces down there that we shouldn’t mess with, especially when we are inexperienced. That being said, the underworld is the only place to find healing for many. Like me, there are witches who find their home among spirits, rather than in the harsh light. If this speaks to your heart, then take your time. Find a living witch teacher or spirit who can introduce you to the darkness. Don’t be an unaccompanied miner. Avoid magickal bypassing by honing your skills and building relationships with spirits who will take you deeper. Hekate’s pale torchlight may beckon you, but proceed with caution.

Using Magickal Objects Borne of Exploitation Or Intolerance

Crystals, plants, and mass manufactured objects can be tricky. Trying to enforce a taboo against using such products is challenging to say the least. On top of this is the current craze of slamming people who use objects that certain gatekeepers have decided are prohibited. Sage and crystals are two examples that I’ve previously explored in articles. More ridiculous gatekeeping. Be a conscious consumer. Use plants, stones and bones that you find. Be creative.

“There is One Right Way to Witch”

The whole “there is one right way to witch” idea should be taboo. Not only does it stifle the spirit of true witchcraft that is uninhibited, creative, ecstatic and wild, but it only makes us look like fools to those who wish witchcraft was still taboo. Witchcraft has always been rebellious and dangerous. Let’s keep it that way.

 

Personal Boundaries, Witchery And Taboos

Taboos often are set at the group level, but we can develop and enact personal ones as well. To me, personal boundaries are lines that shouldn’t be crossed while a taboo is a solid brick wall. I have a few taboos, including one specific ritual that I refuse to even mention by name, although you can read why here. I also have taboos about the type of spirits that I will interact with, but this also applies to certain living witches whom I avoid like the plague. I also don’t supplicate to any deity or entity. My persona mantra has always been, “a witch serves no man.” All acts of giving away my power are taboo as a result. I’d rather be seen as difficult than a “yes witch.”

Creating Toxic Spirits

As witches we are supposed to be all about energy. If I received a piece of quartz for every time someone complained about other’s energy causing them all sorts of distress, I could build the world’s largest crystal castle. Seriously. Lacking taboos opens the gates for all sorts of problems, especially creating toxic spirits. As witches, we should be particularly aware of this risk. It’s time to banish the useless taboos and replace them with ones that are truly empowering.

 

Watch this fascinating documentary about witchcraft from the series Taboo (2002, National Geographic).

This article was inspired by a discussion in my group, The Witches’ Realm. Apply to join.

About Cyndi
Cyndi Brannen is a witch and spiritual teacher, a trained energetic healer, psychic and herbalist. Merging together her training in shamanism, Tarot, past life work, meditation and psychology, she teaches and writes about better living through witchcraft. Keeping Her Keys: An Introduction to Hekate’s Modern Witchcraft explores Hekate from her ancient origins to modern understanding through magic and personal development is available now for pre-order from Moon Books. True Magic: Unleashing Your Inner Witch uses the magic of the elements and the three realms to activate your true witch powers and will be available later in 2019 from Moon as well. Connect with her on Facebook or at keepingherkeys.com to learn more about her teaching and writing. Cyndi lives in rural coastal Nova Scotia with her two sons where she can often be found wandering the cliffs or wild foraging plants. She lives what she teaches: fierce love, emotional courage and true magic. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ambrielle Sephira

    Merry meet! You put forth many excellent points and I will be sharing this post with my coven for discussion at our next meeting. I am interested in their take on several points and would like to thank you for fostering discussion. May you never thirst, may you never hunger. )O(

    (p.s. One small note – in the context of your post the homonym you seek is “minor” not “miner”. One is a an underage person, while the other is someone who works in mines.)

  • Dani

    I think she used ‘miner’ on purpose, as in someone who mines in the depths of the dark. Mining power, knowledge, experience, etc. Mining is dark and dangerous without proper knowledge and equipment, so it makes sense in that context.

  • Exactly, Dani! Thanks.

  • I think we are “miner’s” when we go digging around in the under world. I accept your blessing and I do hope you’ll share the results of your discussion with me!

  • Greybeard Wise

    “Being Tolerant of the Intolerant”
    Personally I am offended and intolerant of any racist sexist who bashes “white males,” which is way too popular these days. Whatever else someone says after that has less credibility.

  • HearthforSolitude

    Says the one who professes all witches walk the same path and death is dark:
    ‘https://www.patheos.com/blogs/keepingherkeys/2018/11/witches-are-not-light-workers-we-are-death-walkers/#comment-4341121790’

    You’re shielding your own practices with no self-reflection or unique insights.

  • Monica V Lucas

    Thank you for all of your points. I came away from it with that we should create our own boundaries based on our own personal level of morality or belief, which is as it should be, and I thought was always a given in my practice. That’s why I’m a solitary practitioner, I suppose. Having run from the Catholic Church at a young age, I can’t even follow the “rules” of a coven. We are such unique, magnificent individuals that conflict is bound to occur in any group setting, in time. Unless we follow without any deep reflection of our own path. Mine is too crooked for many to follow. As for “Harm None,” I like your take on it – “Live your truth, try not to be a jerk doing so.” Thanks again.